This was the first time in more than a decade (not since my days at LSU) that I spent my birthday away from my family. If you know me, you know that my family means more to me than anything and that we’re extremely close. I will admit, I was feeling a bit melancholy at the thought of not being able to see them on the big day, but between my fabulous friends and amazing students, I hardly had time to even remember I was so far away.
It started a few days before my actual birthday. First a package, perfectly time, from my family, filled with cards and a gift. I was outside my classroom talking to another teacher as my students were coming back from specials one afternoon. I turned to enter the classroom and they were all sitting very quietly. Now, I know I have great students, but even I had to be suspicious. I walked to the front of the classroom and one of my vocal students spoke up. She handed me a card and informed me that since we—as in all of my students—would not be able to spend my actual birthday with me (it was conference day), that they wanted to give me this card together. Then they burst out into the Happy Birthday song. No one forced the students to do this, but they thought of this on their own. Later, on my actual birthday, I had students bring me a chocolate mousse cake (homemade), beautiful gifts, and cards. I was so touched that my students and their parents thought of me.
The Friday before my birthday, Sunia asked me to keep the evening free. I was nervous since she wasn’t spilling the beans about what we were going to do that night. I’m not one for surprises. We went to dinner at a local favorite and then she took me to the Hilton. Now, I know the Hilton may not mean anything to you, but it does for me…to me it means the real spa! She had purchased a two-hour package at the spa for me! There were so many great options to choose from! In the end, I went with a rose and milk bath, plus the hot stone aromatherapy massage. Oh my goodness, it was delightful. First, the atmosphere was tranquil. And the tea! OMG, the tea was out of this world. Usually, I have to put like three cubes of sugar in my hot tea, but this was so smooth! The whole evening was absolutely amazing. I plan on going back to the Hilton to treat myself to another spa day at the end of every quintile now.
The next day, Saturday, Sunia was taking me to get my nails done. Our other friend, Sheryl, decided to join us, as well. Sheryl is such a light in our lives. She has been a huge help in settling in and adjusting to our new lives. I’m not sure what I’d do without her. All three of us got manicures, and then Sunia and I got pedicures, too. Afterwards, Sunia and Sheryl mentioned dinner at one of my favorite burger places—The Tavern. I could never say no to The Tavern. We got there and imagine my surprise to run into some of my favorite ladies! Sunia had planned small girls dinner for me to help me celebrate. The girls pitched in for my meal, too! And they even brought gifts for me! I was super touched that they would take a break from their busy schedules and lives to spend the evening with me. Again, I am so lucky to have met these ladies here in China.
On the day of my actual birthday, which I actually share with another close friend (Joscelyn), some of the other teachers we work with that also live in the same apartment complex took us out to dinner.
Friends are truly the best gifts of all, and I feel so blessed that on this birthday, one I wasn’t planning on really celebrating, these “gifts” took the time to help me enjoy my birthday.
The following weekend, last weekend actually, Joscelyn had decided she wanted to go to Disneyland Hong Kong for her birthday. We’re both from Florida, home to a ton of theme and amusement parks, one being Disney World. We wanted to see how it would compare. So, Friday as the kids were leaving, we left to head to the ferry. We decided to a night early so we could get up early and head to Disneyland first thing in the morning. Growing up with the parks in our backyards, we just grew up believing that you went to the park as soon as it opened and stayed as late as you could. We went into this particular park with the same mentality. We got up early and took the metro to the gates, where Mickey could be seen surfing atop the spray of water from a whale’s blowhole.
At the gates, we met Elaine. This was her first time visiting Disneyland. Visiting a Disney park with a first timer is always fun. Their wonder and excitement is almost contagious. The first thing I noticed entering the park was that the layout was almost identical to the Magic Kingdom (the Orlando equivalent to Disneyland). You enter the park on Main Street, lined with stores and shops. In the center of the park is a castle. Here was the big difference…our castle back home, Cinderella’s castle, is HUGE compared to the one at Disneyland. I’m not even sure if someone could classify it as a castle. After taking the obligatory pictures near the “castle”, we allowed Elaine to choose which direction she wanted to go. She chose to the left, Adventureland, home to the Jungle Boat Cruise (a local favorite at home), Tarzan’s Tree House, and the Lion King show. The Jungle Boat was just as cheesy as it is at home! But the Lion King show was amazing! The bilingual telling of Simba’s journey to being lion king was actually an interesting way to approach the possible language barriers of the guests. I particularly enjoyed the men in the leather kilts juggling the sticks of fire. If I had any suggestions for the show, it would be to have more of those men in the show.
After the show, we were starting to get hungry. We walked along and came to Mystic Point…we were sidetracked and decided to ride the Mystic Manor. It was based on the tale of a mischievous monkey whose owner had tons of treasures and artifacts from all over the world. The monkey touched something and the treasures and artifacts came to life, causing trouble. Though it was not my Haunted House back home, this ride definitely ranked as one of my favorites of the day. Afterwards, we went to the restaurant, Explorer’s Club, next door for lunch. The options looked good. I ended up getting a chicken dish that included rice and a soup that had melon at the bottom of it.
Our next stop was Toy Story Land, where Buzz, Woody, and all the toys in the movie towered over us. We rode the Slinky Dog Spin before meeting up with a few other friends, including Sunia. Then I was forced to go on the Toy Soldier Parachute Drop. I will not ride this again, as I cried on the stupid ride (which I am aware is totally horrible for a 36 year old to admit). I hate rides that make me feel like I’m falling. I guess it didn’t look that bad from where I standing on the ground…but once the stupid thing actually goes up—yeah, not again.
One of my favorite lands at the Magic Kingdom back home is Fantasyland because it brings all the characters I loved growing up to life…back home you get to be a part of the stories of Peter Pan, Snow White, Winnie-the-Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, and more. It is the same here. One of my favorites in this Hong Kong version was Fairy Tale Forest, where all the princess stories come to life in miniature displays. I think I will try to convince my mom to make our garden at home a bit more storybook like after visiting this one. We also enjoyed the 4-D experience of the cute show Mickey’s PhilharMagic. We rode The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, seeing the bouncing Tiger and wise Owl. And a visit to any Disney theme park is not complete without a ride on It’s A Small World. One difference I noticed right away was the fact that they had Disney characters placed throughout the countries based on where they came from. For example, Wendy and Peter were seen in Europe. Pocohantas was seen in North America. I am disappointed that China did not have Mulan, though.
Our final stop for the day was in Tomorrowland, the land of the future. We competed against toy robots on Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and raced through space in another favorite, Space Mountain.
Disney has a way of making each adult feel like a child again, allowing us to forget our worries and concerns, even temporarily. I hope to visit more of the world’s Disney theme parks as I travel more…Shanghai, Paris, Tokyo, California. I will say that this particular Disneyland is quite small compared the Magic Kingdom at home (Florida) and is totally doable in a day. At home, we have to strategize and plan our priorities to make sure we hit the rides we want to see/ride since some lines can be up to 2 hours long sometimes!
After the long day acting like a kid the day before, Sunia and I decided to take it easy the next day. We shopped around the IFC near the ferry and ate lunch at the Greyhound Café. The food was wonderful! We sipped on longan tea and dined on clam chowder, complete with real clams! Definitely a place I plan on dining at again. Soon, it was time to depart Hong Kong and make our way back to Shenzhen.
What is the next adventure you ask? A week in Vietnam!